Good To Great (Again)

I wrote this summary of Good To Great in 2012 I think.  I look it up every now and then.  I posted it here ages ago.  Today I read it again.  What a great book.  Today I could replace the opening with something about how,  I am on a train, thinking about work, I suppose.

“…I woke up at 0100 last night, thinking about work. This is rare. One of the more challenging aspects of my new role is establishing the facts about how it all works so we can confront and deal with them. “I need facts!”, I thought, as my mind raced and the LED clock seemingly stopped.

I remembered how important the confrontation of facts is in Good to Great by Jim Collins. I reckoned at 0100 that facts must be the most important bit, the idea that trumps all the others.

Then I remembered I’d clumsily summarised the book last year. I decided to read the summary in the morning to prove myself right, and got myself back to sleep by imagining I was Geoff Boycott batting in a test match. It works every time…

I woke five hours later to find I was wrong, the whole book is brilliant. Here is my clunky summary. It is made all the better by each chapter having a one page summary from which I extracted the bits I agreed with and ignored the bits I didn’t, or which I simply didn’t understand:


1 Level 5 Leaders

  • Humility, low ego and high will
  • Set up successors for success
  • Diligent, work horses
  • Credit to others for success, blame themselves for failings, think their success is luck
  • Lack of celebrity status


2 Who Then What

  • Get the right people on the bus first
  • The  “genius with followers” model fails when the genius departs
  • Little reliance on lay offs (got it right in the first place)
  • Right people in each role
  • Vigorous debate common place
  • The right people are your greatest asset (not just people)


3 Confront the Facts

  • Create a culture in which people can be heard by
    • Asking questions not giving answers
    • Engaging in dialogue and debate not coercion
    • Conducting autopsies without blame
    • Build red flag mechanisms that turn information into information that cannot be ignored
  • Retain faith and you will prevail AND confront the facts. Need to to both.
  • It’s equally as important as the vision
  • Dealing with the facts is central to motivating people


4 Hedgehog Concept

  • Understand three circles to define your hedgehog
    • What are you deeply passionate about
    • What can you be best in the world at
    • What drives your economic engine
  • The concept is not a goal or strategy, it is an understanding
  • What you can be best at might not be your core business, it might even be a competence you currently don’t have
  • For economic engine, seek out a unifying metric,
  • It’s iterative, be information rather than bravado driven
  • It takes years to work out the simple set of factors that make your HC


5 Culture of Discipline

  • Fanatical discipline within the circles
  • Bureaucracy rises to overcome incompetence and a lack of discipline. Mostly the result of having the wrong people in the first place.
  • Duality: adhere to system but freedom to act within the framework of that system
  • Disciplined people, thought and action


6 Technology Accelerators

  • Avoid bandwagons
  • Select carefully
  • Does it fit the HC? If so then pioneer. If not then you can ignore or settle for standard.
  • It’s an accelerator of momentum not the basis of it
  • Employ technology for outcomes not as an end in itself or out of fear of being left behind
  • Not cited as the top five factors in change by 80% of successful companies
  • Crawl, walk, run…


7 The Flywheel and the Loop of Doom




  • They look dramatic from the outside, it is attritional in reality
  • There is no transformational programme or event
  • Consistent build up and break through reign, it’s a flywheel
  • Those that fail, skip build up and seek quick breakthrough, then fall back on a set back
  • Failures use acquisitions to break through, successes consolidate break through with acquisition
  • Successes tend only to notice their success after the fact, there was no event, no programme
  • Great leaders spent no time explicitly creating alignment, motivating or managing change. These follow results, they are not precursors.
  • The short term pressures of Wall Street aren’t consistent with this model.



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